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Intersection of Life and Faith

Help People Discover Christ Through Their Experiences

  • Rick Richardson Guest Author
  • 2001 3 Dec
Help People Discover Christ Through Their Experiences
We can take people a long way toward the confessional truths of a Christian faith using experiential truth. That's what great soul-awakening events do. But how do we learn to think in the language and by the rules of experiential truth? And then how do we argue to our truth basis, the Scriptures? I helped to draft this list of "experiential truth rules" with a group of InterVarsity staff hosted by Doug Schaupp and Jenny Vaughan at UCLA.

1. Don't invalidate the experience of others. We want to challenge them in ways that help them reframe their experiences. But at this stage we are not trying to invalidate their experiences.

2. Bank on the fact that people have a soul and spiritual interest and hunger. If they are willing to come to your event, that says a lot! What's more, they are human, and humans and souls have spiritual longings. Count on it, and affirm every evidence you see in them.

3. Appeal to commonly shared authorities, to postmodern prophets in music and the movies. Turn to shared universal truth experiences, events in our culture, movies that have become part of our story as a culture. The key hump to get over is to recognize that God's image is reflected in this culture and that there are many cultural elements or "handles" we can use to awaken spiritual interest and connect that interest to God.

4. Help people get in touch with their longing, their yearning, their emptiness. Often you can do this by telling your story, or through good drama, or by pointing out the longings expressed by the characters in a compelling movie.

5. Win your emotional and experiential truth points first, before you bring in Jesus and the Bible. Here is where you are arguing to your truth basis, not from it. Convince people of their need for a leader, a mentor, a guide or a forgiver from your own life or from the movie or drama you are using, before you start talking about Jesus.

6. Tie Jesus and the Bible not to propositional truths but to experiential truth moments from your own life and from shared stories, such as movies or personal experiences. Don't bring in the propositions based on some outside authority. People will experience that as a bait and switch. When I want to start talking about Jesus in a message, I either use a short drama or start with a struggle I faced and tell how Jesus helped in a very unexpected way. People are just waiting for you to bring in Jesus in a cliché way. So I often tell how my encounter with Jesus blew away all my stereotypes of Jesus.

7. Create a transformational moment and then interpret it. The transformational moment is that point in the event when people sense that God might be present and are given space to deal with God themselves. Bring people to that point with a good drama, a powerful song, or a haunting, soul-searching question. You have shared your story, been honest about your pain. Now you have earned the right to get into their lives. "Your soul is opening up right now. You've related to some of this. God is tapping you on your shoulder. Will you turn and deal?" Questions are often at the heart of these transformational moments. Asking a powerful, poignant question can help bring the work of the Spirit in the life of the pre-Christian to a very intense and transforming moment.

8. Work deeply with the transformational moment. Share what you are going through at the transformational moment. Express how deeply the question you have just asked moves you and challenges your own soul. Then turn it into a challenge to your hearers' souls. "I want to be loved when I am unlovable. Can your soul handle more love? Or will you shut down, stay lonely, wall yourself off from God and from others?"

9. If you practice smooth transitions, you can be very challenging and prophetic at the transformational moment. What I mean by transitions is key points at which you shift the focus toward your main point and toward Jesus. Let's say you started the event with a drama about relational struggles, and then you told a story of a relational breakup in your life. How you begin to talk about the healing process and about Jesus is very important. Smooth transitions don't interrupt the flow of experiential truth. People stay with you because what you are sharing continues to ring true experientially, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.

For example: "I read the Bible sometimes to get wisdom for life. Just when I was devastated over this breakup, I found a woman in the Bible who had experienced the same kind of relational chaos I had. Can you believe it? The Bible very unexpectedly spoke to my pain and chaos by giving me an example of someone who was just as messed up as I was. That woman appears in our next drama." A drama based on Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman in John 4 can follow - but make sure it incorporates some unexpected contemporary dialogue. Now Jesus has been introduced into the discussion in a way that honors the rules of experiential truth.

Excerpted by permission from Evangelism Outside the Box: New Ways to Help People Experience the Good News, copyright 2000 by Rick Richardson. All rights reserved. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill.,, 1-800-843-4587.

Rick Richardson (M.Div., Northern Baptist Seminary) is national field director of evangelism for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.

Does evangelism make you nervous or excited, and why? Have you talked to people who don't yet know Jesus lately to share what He has done in your life and can do in theirs? If so, how did they respond? Visit Live It's forum to respond, or read what others have to say. Just click on the link below.